Chinese Film: Realism and Convention review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Victor Fan’s review of Chinese Film: Realism and Convention from the Silent Era to the Digital Age, by Jason McGrath. The review appears below and at its online home: Given the obvious conflict of interest, I filled in for Jason McGrath, who would normally oversee publication of our media studies reviews. Enjoy.


Kirk Denton, MCLC

Chinese Film: Realism and Convention
from the Silent Era to the Digital Age

By Jason McGrath

Reviewed by Victor Fan

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright July, 2023)

Jason McGrath, Chinese Film: Realism and Convention from the Silent Era to the Digital Age Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2022, 404 pages. ISBN 978-1-5179-1403-5 (paper); ISBN 978-1-5179-1402-8 (cloth).

Chinese Film: Realism and Convention from the Silent Era to the Digital Age is one of the most ambitious, thought-provoking, and groundbreaking works on the subject to date. Besides being an inspiring piece of research, the book also provides a solid method of critical analysis that is highly accessible to university students of all levels, without compromising the complexity and nuances of its discussion.

Although titled Chinese Film, the book addresses an intersection between three concerns that go beyond the study of Chinese cinema: (1) What is realism and how is it related to the question of cinematographic reality? (2) Can we rehistoricize Chinese cinema based on how the cinematic works of each historical period negotiate their specific sociopolitical conditions and aesthetic values through modes of realism? (3) With our current knowledge of Chinese film theory and criticism, how do we fully incorporate them into the larger discourses of film studies in order to develop a method of analysis that can address Chinese cinema’s cultural and sociopolitical specificities and its situatedness in global cinemas?

McGrath explicitly addresses the first two concerns. The third concern, however, may not be entirely visible to most readers but is in fact McGrath’s effort to address the current debate on Asia as method: how one relates bodies of knowledge generated in Asia to Euro-American knowledge under the pressures of colonialism and imperialism, and how one uses such knowledge not as a universalizing theory, but as a method that can address the intricate relationship between the universal and the particular.[1] In my opinion, this is the most trailblazing contribution of this book, and I daresay that the method McGrath proposes is the method employed in the book itself.

The relationship between the cinematographic image and reality and what realism means in cinema are two fundamental questions in film studies. However, we often take for granted that these two questions can be adequately and universally addressed by examining Hollywood and other Euro-American films alone and by focusing on how they are debated by Euro-American scholars. As McGrath argues, the Chinese term for realism, xieshi zhuyi 寫實主義 (principle of inscribing reality), is by no means a straightforward translation of its European counterpart, which would have been rendered as zhenshi zhuyi 真實主義 (principle of being real, concrete, truthful, and authentic).[2] McGrath draws our attention first to the premodern debate on the definition of zhen (authenticity) in Chinese aesthetics under Daoism and Buddhism to point out the contestability of the term itself and its translatability to European languages and concepts.[3] He then notes that the Chinese term xie (inscription) “implies a mimetic representation, promising access to an external reality through some form of inscription or recording.”[4] For me, McGrath brings to the fore that if we understand realism from such perspective, cinematographic reality is not to be understood as an episteme—that is, a universal knowledge as the way it is—but as a technē, that is, a knowledge that is always inscribed on ourselves and on our associated milieus through technical means.[5]

The underlying assumption of McGrath’s book is therefore the idea that a technicity (a technical or operating principle) in human consciousness that connects reality and its anthropotechnical inscription establishes not only a link between the cinematographic image and reality, but also how modes of realism are mobilized in the cinema to perform subjectival inscriptions on both personal and sociopolitical levels. This is similar to Bernard Stiegler’s thesis in La technique et le temps (Technics and time): cinema mechanically reproduces human consciousness and rehearses the way we come to know the world. The brilliance of McGrath’s book is its ability to raise this point without belaboring excessive philosophical arguments; rather, he does so succinctly by establishing a comparative space between Chinese critical thinking of the cinema and its Euro-American counterpart.[6]

In his “Introduction,” McGrath proposes a taxonomy of realisms, which also serves as the organizing principle of his book. The proposed six categories of cinematic realism are: (1) ontological realism, that is, a unique and intricate relationship between the cinematographic image and reality because of its technological specificity; (2) perceptual realism: the ability of the cinematographic image to present itself to our sense-perception as real; (3) fictional realism, which refers to a narrative film’s capability of encouraging “diegetic immersion”; (4) social realism, which is defined by McGrath as a “sense of verisimilitude in the social reality constructed within a film” without necessarily serving any political function; (5) prescriptive realism, which seeks to disconceal prescriptively—as opposed to descriptively—the reality that lies underneath the surface, with a pedagogical intention of telling the spectators what the concealed reality is in accordance with a specific political framework; and (6) apophatic realism, which can be understood as an open text that enables spectators to grasp a sense of reality that would otherwise remain unsaid or inarticulable.[7]

Such a taxonomy enables McGrath to reevaluate how Chinese cinema can be historicized. Up to this point, there are two key historiographical methods in studies of Chinese cinema. The earliest attempt to historicize Chinese cinema after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was made by a team of historians led by Cheng Jihua 程季华, Li Shaobai 李少白, and Xing Zuwen 邢祖文. In their work, History of the Development of Chinese Cinema 中國電影發展史, which was first published in 1963, these historians adopt a mixture of dialectic materialism and nationalism to narrativize Chinese film history as one shaped by class struggle and nation building. They regard the 1930s, during which most Shanghai filmmakers rejected the bourgeois literary tendency of the 1920s and put all their effort to make politically conscious films, as the golden age of Chinese leftwing cinema. Meanwhile, the Seventeen Years period (1949–1966) between the founding of the PRC and the Cultural Revolution (1966–76) is portrayed as a clean break from the past, a period during which a proletarian film style was gradually achieved through the combination of revolutionary realism and revolutionary romanticism.[8]

Cheng, Li, and Xing’s historical schema remained widely accepted by film historians till the publication of Zhen Zhang’s An Amorous History of the Silver Screen: Shanghai Cinema, 1896–1937 in 2005. In this book, Zhang sees Shanghai cinema as a form of what Miriam Hansen calls “vernacular modernism,” an art form that negotiates the conflicting sociopolitical and ethical values that emerged under urban and semicolonial modernity. Zhang’s historiographical method posits politics and nation building as only one of the many aspects of contestations that Shanghai cinema sought to negotiate. As a result, other issues can be foregrounded: including debates on gender and sexuality, affective flows and exchanges, construction and reevaluation of cultural traditions vis-à-vis Euro-American values and practices, and philosophical and scientific discourses on life and cinema.[9] Zhang’s book also paves the way for the studies of the critical and theoretical debates on the cinema and media by Weihong Bao and myself, and her approach is still criticized by some scholars who work in the PRC itself as a “revisionist” effort to undermine the integrity of Chineseness.[10]

McGrath’s intervention in film historiography mediates these two positions. For him, while Cheng, Li, and Xing focus on the historical struggle between classes and political factors, Zhang’s approach enables her and her followers to foreground the vernacular discourses and intellectual debates that shaped cinema as the way it was. Both positions are certainly not mutually exclusive. But not much attention has been paid to what individual films do in practice. For McGrath, as sociopolitical changes took place, different political agendas and social values required different modes of realism not only to serve these overt purposes, but also to produce excesses that can negotiate repressed desires and conflicting ideas of which spectators may or may not be conscious. By scrutinizing the forms and styles of individual films, McGrath is able to acknowledge the effects of sociopolitical changes on these works, thus allowing him to retain Cheng, Li, and Xing’s historical periodization. It also permits McGrath to examine how Chinese filmmakers have come up with culturally specific solutions to address different sociopolitical circumstances, a gambit that enables him to reevaluate Cheng, Li, and Xing’s nation building thesis without falling into the trap of cultural essentialism. And by acknowledging that individual film texts do produce excesses that negotiate desires and traumas, McGrath also retains the vernacular-modernism approach proposed by Zhang.

With his taxonomy, McGrath examines Chinese cinema from seven historical periods and demonstrates their interrelatedness. He begins his discussion by examining how Shanghai filmmakers from the 1920s and 1930s were fascinated with ontological realism not only from a metaphysical and existential perspective (a perspective that we now associate with André Bazin), but also from a scientific trust in the photographic image’s authenticity.[11] This chapter and the six other chapters that follow employ a rigorous methodology. Here, McGrath first explicates the concept of ontological realism as understood by Euro-American scholars. He then analyzes how Chinese filmmakers and writers in the 1920s and 1930s discuss this issue not only in relation to Euro-American classical film theory itself, but also in relation to indigenous knowledge and to the popular framework of scientism. McGrath’s examination of the Shanghai critical discourse of that period certainly resonates with Weihong Bao’s and my observations, though at every step of his reading he comes up with original interventions based on his archival research and insight. By incorporating acting as a key factor in analyzing Shanghai cinema during this period, for example, McGrath complicates our initial impression of ontological realism.[12]

Photograph of Ruan Lingyu’s funeral procession, with a still from New Woman.

For instance, McGrath offers an awe-inspiring scrutiny of two photographs of “Ruan Lingyu” 阮玲玉 (also known as Lilian Yuen), one taken at her funeral after she committed suicide in 1935 and another one staged by the Hong Kong director Stanley Kwan in his film Centre Stage (1992) with the actor Maggie Cheung 張曼玉. At first, one can arrive at the conclusion that the 1935 photo demonstrates ontological realism, especially given the indexicality between Ruan’s dead body and the photographic image itself. But to complicate matters, in the funeral itself, Ruan was commemorated not by this picture. Rather, her actual funeral picture was a production portrait taken from her film New Women新女性 (1935), whose protagonist (whom she plays) similarly commits suicide near the end of the film. Ruan’s fans in 1935 would have had an uncanny sensation that Ruan’s real death can be read as a restaging of her fictional death. Thus, the realism of the 1935 photo of Ruan’s corpse in the funeral is both fictional and ontological. Meanwhile, the actor Maggie Cheung is indexically imprinted onto the 1992 film image, which makes this photo’s mode of realism as ontological as the 1935 photo of Ruan. As a staged photo made possible by Cheung’s acting, its realism is not only fictional, but also perceptual, because Cheung’s image is iconically and symbolically connected to the ontological and fictional realisms of the 1935 photo by means of our perception.[13]

McGrath’s methodology enables him to offer new insights and evaluations of Chinese cinematic works from different periods. In his discussion of Shanghai cinema from the 1930s, for instance, McGrath acknowledges its indebtedness to the forms, styles, and generic conventions of Hollywood at the time.[14] In fact, two of the films McGrath discusses, Street Angel 馬路天使 (1937; dir. Yuan Muzhi 袁牧之) and Crossroads 十字街頭 (1937; dir. Shen Xiling 沈西苓), are hybrids of Hollywood adaptations and original creations. Yet, for McGrath, Shanghai filmmakers from this period had a tendency to use formal and narrational devices to put into question the internal coherence and narrative integrity favored by their Hollywood counterparts. While in Hollywood cinema, the impression of a narrative’s self-enclosure guarantees a film’s fictional realism and the capitalist logic that determines it, in Shanghai cinema, the fictionality of such realism is foregrounded, thus opening an opportunity for the spectators to access a deeper social reality (social realism) and a critical space for them.[15] Meanwhile, postwar Chinese cinema (1945–49) uses strategies of long takes, narrative ellipses, temporal distension, and sometimes epic structure to entice spectators not only to access a deeper social reality, but also an existential reality that is inarticulable by the image itself. Such apophatic realism is best exemplified by Fei Mu’s 費穆 (also known as Fey Mou) 1948 film Spring in a Small Town 小城之春.[16]

After his discussion of Chinese cinemas in the 1930s and 1940s, McGrath turns to films produced during the Seventeen Years period and the Cultural Revolution, cinemas that have often been dismissed by film historians as party-state propaganda.[17] As Paul Clark argues, during the Seventeen Years, filmmakers, critics, and policymakers were engaged in a debate between revolutionary realism and revolutionary romanticism.[18] For McGrath, revolutionary realism during this period goes beyond the objective of disconcealing for the audience a deeper social reality (social realism) by prescribing a method by which spectators should approach and understand the reality represented by the film (prescriptive realism). To complicate matters, McGrath carefully analyzes the narratological strategies of these films. For him, Chinese cinema during the Seventeen Years is in many ways similar to its Hollywood counterpart. Yet, these films’ romantic subplots are often sublimated into revolutionary sacrifices or victories.

This “sublimation” thesis was first proposed in 1988 by Chris Berry, for whom in the “progressive” films in the 1930s, such as Big Road 大路 (1935; dir. Sun Yu 孫瑜), romantic feelings and relationships are rarely consummated.[19] Instead, they are often channeled to a revolutionary cause (either nationalist or socialist) by means of sacrifices (such as death, arrest, or even execution). In his film analysis, McGrath demonstrates that romantic feelings and relationships are never concealed. For example, in Red Detachment of Women 紅色娘子軍 (1960, dir. Xie Jin 謝晉), the romantic sensations between the formerly enslaved female protagonist Wu Qionghua 吳瓊花 (played by Zhu Xijuan 祝希娟) and her communist educator Hong Changqing 洪常青 (played by Wang Xingang 王心剛) are carefully conveyed by Hollywood’s shot/reverse-shot system. By alternating between the over-the-shoulder shots of Qionghua and Changqing in their key conversations, the film actively employs this Hollywood convention to generate among spectators a longing and expectation for their romantic consummation. Strategically, however, the film often interrupts their dialogues and divert their individual desires to a longing for personal, and then eventually, collective, liberation.

In fact, Red Detachment famously features a sequence in which Qionghua witnesses from afar the brutal immolation of Changqing by the landlord Nan Batian 南霸天 (played by Chen Qiang 陳強). In this case, Changqing, whom Qionghua desires as an individual, is burnt alive in front of her eyes. Nonetheless, it is important to note that shortly before his execution, Changqing stares at the graffiti of communist slogans left by the revolutionary rebels shortly before Nan reoccupied the village earlier in the film. In a series of shots/reverse shots, Changqing’s close-ups are intercut with the close-ups of these slogans, which climax with the slogan “Long Live the Communist Party!” In so doing, the shot/reverse-shot structure between him and Qionghua is sublimated by one that now conveys his romantic feelings toward the party, and such political romance is eventually consummated with a superimposition of the party’s flag onto his close-up, and eventually, his body consumed by the sacrificial fire itself.[20]

McGrath’s analysis enables us to appreciate that revolutionary sublimation in these films is not simply a subtext that is randomly felt or observed by a few film scholars; rather, it is carefully designed in the film’s mise en scène. For McGrath, moments of sublimation are often accompanied by an empty gaze of the protagonist, who looks somewhere offscreen to indicate that they are able to catch a glimpse of the revolutionary future. This strategy would then be incorporated into a much more systematic employment of operatic forms and ballets in the model opera films during the Cultural Revolution. Nonetheless, while these gazes signify a mode of apophatic realism in the Seventeen Years films by suggesting that something inarticulable in the image will lie somewhere in the future, they become pure prototypes and forms in Cultural Revolution films. Yet, instead of dismissing them as meaningless propaganda, McGrath conducts a rigorous formal analysis of these Cultural Revolution films to demonstrate how their mise en scène, including the substantial use of both découpage (long takes with complex camera movement) and montage, draws the spectators’ attention to the formal beauty and power of these works. Curiously, for McGrath, these aesthetic spectacles often generate an excess, which allows spectators to channel their romantic and sexual desires to the spectacles themselves or to the physical and facial beauty of the performers.[21]

The final two chapters of Chinese Film discusses the fascination with Bazinian “long-take” realism among Chinese filmmakers and critics in the 1980s and 1990s and the modes of realism in the digital age. Previously, the rise of Bazinian aesthetics in the PRC was considered simply an intellectual phenomenon at a time when Euro-American film theory was again made available in China during Deng Xiaoping’s reform and opening up era (1978–2000).[22] Nonetheless, by scrutinizing the theoretical discussions of Chinese filmmakers and of the critics Li Tuo 李陀 and Zhang Nuanxin 張暖忻, McGrath notes that Bazin’s understanding of the long take as a means to let the image speak for itself provides these filmmakers a counter-strategy that goes against the emphasis on plot construction, politicized meaning production, and theatrical formalization in revolutionary cinemas.[23]

In these two final chapters, McGrath also revisits the thesis of his previous book Postsocialist Modernity: Chinese Cinema, Literature, and Criticism in the Market Age (2008). McGrath borrows the term “postsocialism” from Arif Dirlik and sees it simultaneously as: (1) a global dispositif, economic ecology, and governmentality after the collapse of the Soviet Union, under a belief that capitalism has since then been the only option available to us; (2) a dispositif, economic ecology, and governmentality specific to China during the Deng era, which sought to incorporate capitalist developmentalism into the larger socialist infrastructure framed within the revolutionary history of the nation state.[24] But with the emergence of new Chinese filmmakers and media producers, both in the mainstream industry and in independent cinema, who are less interested in examining the effect of postsocialism than the capitalist reality(ies) in which they live, McGrath now finds useful Mark Fisher’s term “capitalist realism,” which refers precisely to the gap between capitalist expectations and the actual state of economic and sociopolitical existence.[25]

In his discussion of the digital, McGrath first rehearses the established argument in film and media studies that digital technology has put into question the relationship between the image and reality. For Lev Manovich, for instance, digital technology enables filmmakers to edit, reconfigure, revise, and recreate an image, which severs the indexical relationship between the image and reality. To complicate matters, motion capture technology enables filmmakers to track and record the actions of a performer. In postproduction, a computer-generated figure will then reproduce the recorded movement. Thus, even though the computer-generated figure is an animated image that has no indexical relationship with any performer, it embodies the actions that are in fact indexical imprints of the original movement of the performer. Hence, Manovich argues that digital cinema is no longer ontologically grounded in reality and is better understood as a mode of animation.[26] McGrath points out that in the same year, the Chinese film scholar Chen Xihe 陳犀禾 also argued that with digital technology, “verisimilitude is no longer the goal.” Therefore, Chen calls digital cinema a form of “virtual realism.”[27]

But McGrath also adds nuance to the Euro-American-dominated debate on digital technology by observing cases in Chinese cinemas. For example, he argues that a film like The Wandering Earth 流浪地球 (2019) may appear to be very similar to Interstellar (2014; dir. Christopher Nolan) in its plot and visual design. However, whereas Interstellar seeks to achieve a look—through GoPro effect—that can compete with or even exceed the sense of reality offered by celluloid photographic technology, The Wandering Earth emulates the aesthetics of animation and anime by foregrounding the fantastical.[28] To complicate matters, Chinese independent cinema often demonstrates a mixture of two tendencies. On the one hand, many filmmakers today still inherit from the Sixth Generation’s (the 1990s to the early 2000s) trust in the digital image’s capability to posit the camera and the spectators “on location” (現場). In this sense, digital technology renews and refreshes cinema’s ontological realism. On the other hand, computer-generated images (CGIs) are often employed to put into question a film’s ontological realism or, in fact, the sense of reality of the lived experience in the surrealist atmosphere under China’s rapidly changing economic, sociopolitical, and cultural conditions (capitalist realism).[29]

As I mentioned earlier, McGrath demonstrates that Chinese cinema is part of global cinema and the larger critical discourses in film and media studies. He does so by acknowledging Chinese cinema’s indebtedness to Hollywood and by rigorously analyzing how its filmmakers and critics consciously put into question Hollywood’s aesthetics, narrative style, as well as its dispositif. Meanwhile, by enabling critical theories generated from Europe and North America to converse with those generated in China, we can understand the interbecoming between these ideas. Furthermore, by scrutinizing what filmmakers actually do in practice, McGrath enables us to see the shortcomings of Euro-American film theory and criticism when knowledge is simply produced by examining Hollywood and European cinemas. In each chapter of the book, McGrath truly illustrates that case studies from China—and by implications, around the world—can help us understand the importance of Asia as method: the importance of acknowledging Asia as a site and subject of knowledge production and its complicated position under colonialism, postcolonialism, and neocolonialism.[30] Last but not least, Chinese Film is written in a highly accessible language, and each chapter can be used directly as a text to teach Chinese cinema of a particular period to universities students of all levels. The University of Minnesota Press has also made the book available as an “open access manifold edition.”

Victor Fan
King’s College


[1] Chen Kuan-Hsing, Asia as Method: Toward Deimperialization (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2010).

[2] Jason McGrath, Chinese Film: Realism and Convention from the Silent Era to the Digital Age (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2022), 3. Another term for realism, probably a neologism from Japan, would be xianshi zhuyi 現實主義which emphasizes the notion of xian (presence). Meanwhile, in the 1990s, Chinese filmmakers also use the term jishi zhuyi 紀實主義 (principle of documenting reality). See McGrath, Chinese Film, 330, note 10.

[3] McGrath, Chinese Film, 330, notes 11–14. McGrath cites Alexus McLeod, “Pluralism about Truth in Early Chinese Philosophy: A Reflection on Wang Chong’s Approach,” Contemporary Philosophy 2, no. 1 (2011): 38–60; Vera Schwarcz, Colors of Veracity: A Quest for Truth in China, and Beyond (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Prss, 2014), 17; Eugene Y. Wang, “Sketch Conceptualism as Modernist Contingency,” in Maxwell K. Hearn and Judith G. Smith, eds., Chinese Art: Modern Expressions (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2001): 102–61; Wu Ch’eng-en, The Journey to the West, Tr. Anthony C. Yu (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977), 1: 182.

[4] McGrath, Chinese Film, 3–4.

[5] I also discuss this issue in Cinema Illuminating Reality: Media Philosophy through Buddhism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2022), 46–58.

[6] See Bernard Stiegler, La technique et le temps (Paris: Fayard, 2018).

[7] McGrath, Chinese Film, 8–24. McGrath’s term “apophatic” realism comes from Umberto Eco, The Open Work (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), 7–9; see also V. F. Perkins’s discussion of Roman Jakobson’s use of the term in “Where Is the World? The Horizon of Events in Movie Fiction,” in John Gibbs and Douglas Pye, eds., Style and Meaning: Studies in the Detailed Analysis of Film (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2005), 20, 23.

[8] Cheng Jihua, Li Shaobai, and Xing Zuwen, History of the Development of Chinese Cinema 中國電影發展史. 2 vols. (Beijing: Zhongguo dianying, 1980). For the Seventeen Years, see Paul Clark, Chinese Cinema: Culture and Politics since 1949 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989).

[9] Zhang, Zhen, An Amorous History of the Silver Screen: Shanghai Cinema, 1896–1937 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).

[10] Bao, Weihong, Fiery Cinema: The Emergence of an Affective Medium in China, 1915–1945 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015); Victor Fan, Cinema Approaching Reality: Locating Chinese Film Theory (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015); Li Daoxin, “Chongjian zhutixing yu chongxie dianyingshi––yi Lu Xiaopeng de kuaguo dianying yanjiu yu Huayu dianying lunshu wei zhongxin de fansi he piping” [Reestablishing ontology and rewriting film history: Rethinking and critiquing Sheldon Lu’s transnational cinema and the use of Chinese-language cinema as a critical core], Dianying yishu [Film art], no volume, no. 8 (2014): 53–58.

[11] André Bazin, “Ontologie de l’image photographique” [1945], in Qu’est-ce que le cinéma? 1. Ontologie et langage (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1958), 18.

[12] McGrath, Chinese Film, 33–66.

[13] McGrath, 36–48 and 67.

[14] For a detailed discussion, see Yiman Wang, Remaking Chinese Cinema: Through the Prism of Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Hollywood (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2013).

[15] McGrath, Chinese Film, 71–114.

[16] McGrath, 115–43.

[17] This view can be found in Jay Leyda, Dianying: An Account of Films and the Film Audience in China (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1972). In fact, the dismissal of PRC cinemas from these two periods as pure propaganda with no artistic value can be found in film magazines and film festival brochures in the U.K., United States, and Hong Kong during the 1960s and 1970s. Paul Clark offers a more nuanced study of these films in Clark, Chinese Cinema. More recently, a more thorough examination of these cinemas can be found in Jessica Ka Yee Chan, Chinese Revolutionary Cinema: Propaganda, Aesthetics and Internationalism (London: I.B. Tauris, 2019).

[18] Clark, Chinese Cinema.

[19] Chris Berry, “The Sublimative Text: Sex and Revolution in Big Road,” East-West Film Journal 2, no. 2 (June 1988): 66–86.

[20] McGrath, Chinese Film, 181–85 and 194–95.

[21] McGrath, 199–240.

[22] Cecile Lagesse, “Bazin and the Politics of Realism in Mainland China.” In Dudley Andrew and Hervé Joubert-Laurencin, eds., Opening Bazin: Postwar Film Theory and Its Afterlife (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 316–23. I also discuss this in Fan, Cinema Approaching Reality, 20–21.

[23] McGrath, Chinese Film, 241–80. Li Tuo 李陀, “A School of Thought on Film Aesthetics Worth Paying Attention to: On the “Long Take Theory” 一个值得重视的电影美学学派–关于长镜头的理论), in Film Culture Series 电影文化丛刊 (Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue, 1980), 1:148–60; Li Tuo and Zhang Nuanxin 張暖忻, “On the Modernization of Film Language” 谈电影语言的现代化 . In Ding Yaping 丁亚平, ed., One Hundred Years of Chinese Film Theory and Criticism 百年中国电影理论文选 (Beijing: Wenhua yishu, 2002), 2: 11–13; 2: 30–36.

[24] Arif Dirlik, “Postsocialism? Reflections on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.” In Arif Dirlik and Maurice Meisner, eds., Marxism and the Chinese Experience: Issues in Contemporary Chinese Socialism (Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1989), 361–84; Jason McGrath, Postsocialist Modernity: Chinese Cinema, Literature, and Criticism in the Market Age (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2008).

[25] McGrath, Chinese Film, 277. McGrath refers to Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? (Winchester, UK: Zero Books, 2009).

[26] Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001), 295–300.

[27] Chen Xihe 陳犀禾, “Virtual Realism and Post-filmic Theory” 虚拟现实主义和后电影理论. Dangdai dianying no. 2 (2001): 84–88. The discussion of Manovich and Chen’s works can be found in McGrath, Chinese Film, 283–84.

[28] McGrath, Chinese Film, 297–303.

[29] McGrath, Chinese Film, 304–15. McGrath’s analysis is modelled on Michael Berry, Jia Zhangke on Jia Zhangke (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2022), 99–100.

[30] See Chen, Asia as Method.

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